"Arthur Christmas" is charming holiday movie fare that opens Wednesday in Tulsa theaters. The comedy works. But there's not much to the characters that proves memorable. It's not a bad movie, but ...
Let me put it this way: I'm someone who gathers with my kids to watch Christmas movies every year. If we had a copy of "Arthur Christmas" at home, this is the movie that might be stacked near the bottom of our pile, and we might never get to viewing it because we like so many others that much more.
This original work from the people at Aardman Animations is consistent with the cheeky wit and silliness we've come to expect from their many good works, like the "Wallace & Gromit" movies, "Chicken Run" and the seriously underrated "Flushed Away."
But disappointment emerges in the opening half-hour of "Arthur Christmas," which goes to great pains with the exposition to explain the operations of Santa's operation at the North Pole. This segment employs so many pop culture references that it feels like a trick a "Shrek" movie from 10 years ago would have employed.
Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy) is one of Santa's two sons, the one everyone sees as a clumsy simpleton who can only be trusted with answering children's letters to Santa. His brother, Steve (Hugh Laurie), is Arthur's opposite: He resembles a Special Forces team member, running the Christmas Eve gift-delivery process with a militaristic approach.
There are laughs to be had as an elf army skis down rooftops (like a James Bond movie) and enters homes a la "Mission: Impossible" and solves operational challenges with an "Apollo 13" efficiency. There is also - as we watch these gift-givers drop from a massive craft that resembles a cloaked U.S.S. Enterprise from "Star Trek" - a feeling that we've seen all of this before.
"Arthur Christmas" mixes its "Ho-ho" with some "Ho-hum."
The point is to answer that lingering question ("How does Santa deliver the world's gifts in one night?") and then focus in when out of the billions of deliveries, one child is missed. The efficiency rate is incredible, but Arthur's the type to say that one child missed is one child too many, setting the scaredy-cat out in his fuzzy, light-up slippers on an around-the-world adventure.
The British voice cast includes Jim Broadbent as an appropriately jolly, winsome Santa, but otherwise empty big man. He is positioned along with alpha-son Steve (the presumed heir to becoming the next Santa Claus upon dad's retirement) as having forgotten the true meaning of the holiday, while Arthur is the one who still sees Christmas through the eyes of a child.
It's a sweet-natured message, and the picture really lifts off with Arthur catching a sleigh-ride with his Grand-Santa, voiced by Bill Nighy as a hilariously hard-charging "This is how we did it in the old days!" senior citizen.
Their antics (eluding police, losing reindeer along the way and their inventive uses of "magic dust") give the film an energy and amusement not found back home at the North Pole.
But Arthur is one of the least interesting protagonists in Christmas-movie history. He's a nice guy, and he's just as flat as that sounds. There are minor players who have more depth of characterization than Arthur.
"Arthur Christmas" is presented in 3-D, but the animation is not of a quality that seeing it in anything other than 2-D is recommended. It's cute characters are more of the two-dimensional variety anyway.
voices of James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy, Jim Broadbent, Imelda StauntonTheaters:
(in 3-D) AMC Southroads 20, Cinemark Tulsa, Cinemark Broken Arrow, Starworld 20Running time:
1 hour, 37 minutesRated:
PG (some mild rude humor)Quality:
(on a scale of zero to four stars)
Michael Smith 918-581-8479
Original Print Headline: New holiday film not among Christmas favorites